Talk-radio host and lawyer Kevin James talks to the media after casting… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Kevin James' Los Angeles mayoral bid may have fallen short, but the long-shot candidate's third-place finish has given him newfound clout in the runoff between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti. Eyeing the nearly 47,000 voters who supported James, both Democrats are actively seeking the Republican attorney's imprimatur.
James had a two-hour dinner with City Councilman Garcetti last Saturday at Pace restaurant in Laurel Canyon. The previous day, he met for an hour and a half with City Controller Greuel in his Century City law office. The conversations were private so the candidates could speak freely. But both are ardently seeking his endorsement — and the votes of his supporters — as they try to gain an edge in the May 21 election.
James said he remains undecided about whether he will weigh in.
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"I still have some questions," he said. "I do expect to meet with them each one more time and maybe talk to them on the phone again, and then I'll decide what I'm going to do."
Throughout the primary election, James was a vocal critic of City Hall veterans Greuel, Garcetti and Councilwoman Jan Perry — who also has yet to endorse anyone. He painted them as responsible for the city's financial woes and said their promises to right the city rang hollow given how long they had failed during their combined three decades in office. But he reserved his most pointed criticism for Greuel, with whom he was competing for the support of conservative voters in the San Fernando Valley.
"Ms. Greuel always makes the point that she knows where the bodies are buried. That's because she buried the bodies," James said in a February debate.
FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor
Since losing the primary, James has laid out strict criteria for how he will make his decision on whether to endorse.
"For Ms. Greuel, I need to have some confidence that there's going to be some semblance of independence between her position as mayor and the public-sector unions," James said.
Greuel is a major beneficiary of labor spending in the race, and since the primary has picked up the endorsement of one union that represents 10,000 city workers as well as the probable backing of another that represents hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers throughout the county.
"That just means that her hill gets steeper. That doesn't mean she can't achieve it," James said.
"For Mr. Garcetti, I need to have some confidence and belief that he will run the office of mayor differently than he did as council president," he said.
Given James' newness on the political scene — this was his first attempt to win public office — it's unclear how much weight voters would give his endorsement, said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at Cal State Northridge who has studied L.A. politics for more than 20 years.
"That's the million-dollar question for this election, because you have a lot of these blocs that are still left uncommitted," he said. "Kevin James has not been around that long on the scene; I just don't think he has the standing of a long-term politician. It may have some weight but probably not determinative."
Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP strategist and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which handicaps legislative races, said that if James decides to endorse, the effect will be determined by his reasoning and how he presents it.
"It's one thing to endorse, another thing to be persuasive," he said.
James said he does not know when he will make a decision; the uncertainty allows him to remain a least a little longer in the spotlight.
Looking back at the race, James said that the experience was among the "most rewarding" in his life.
"Seeing so many people get involved in their community and being challenged every day … by the other candidates, being challenged by voters, I thought that scrutiny was interesting and exciting," James said. "Fundraising is a bit monotonous, but other than that.... I did 42 debates, I would have done 52 debates."
James blames his inability to make the runoff on timing and fundraising rather than with the city's Democratic tilt.
"If we had had more traction earlier, I would have made the runoff," James said. "I don't think it says so much about Republican versus Democrat as it does needing more time and money to let Angelenos know they had a choice."
James declined to rule out another run for office.
"It depends on the next mayor," he said. "If Mr. Garcetti or Ms. Greuel [does] a good job, then there's no reason for me to do it again. But if they perform as they did as controller and City Council president, then we're going to need a new mayor, so we'll see."
Since the election, James has returned to his law practice and filling in on Los Angeles drive-time talk radio. He pledged to remain active in civic life and a watchdog of City Hall.
"I'm not going anywhere," James said.